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Learning & Development Blog

How to Avoid Scrap Learning


We’ve all been there. Attending a training course, or working through an eLearning module, and thinking “This is great information. I wonder how I can apply this to my job.” And, after some thought, you realize “I can’t…at least not right now.”

So what happens to the learning gains you made while going through the course? Unfortunately, unless you can apply those gains fairly immediately, they simply fall away resulting in a waste of time, energy, and materials that have no real application. This is what is known as “scrap learning.”

Scrap learning is defined as "Learning that is delivered but not applied back on the job."

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According to a recent white paper titled Confronting Scrap Learning by CEB Global, “For the average organization, 45% of learning investments are scrap learning.” In a world where we all have to do more with shrinking budgets and resources, that is a shocking amount of waste. The problem stems from a variety of causes including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Low learner motivation
  • The content is not directly relevant
  • Inadequate support materials
  • Insufficient practice
  • Delivered at the wrong time
  • Examples don’t connect

So what are some strategies organizations can implement to reduce scrap learning and recognize real gains from their investments in learning? Here are a few ideas.

1. Robust Performance Support

No one can absorb and then immediately apply all of the content in a course. True learning takes application and repeated practice back on the job. But what can learners do when they don’t quite remember how to execute a new process or procedure? Going back to course materials and notes is cumbersome and difficult and learners tend to avoid that. Investing in a robust performance support system and incorporating its use right into your training program so that users gain a comfort level with the system is a great way to reduce scrap learning. A complete and easy-to-navigate performance support system extends the learning opportunity beyond the classroom and helps users apply content that may not have been immediately relevant to them after course attendance.

Avoid Scrap Learning

2. Leave out the Kitchen Sink

Over and over I see instructional designer fall victim to their subject matter expert’s opinion of what is important. As they name implies, a subject matter expert is just that - an expert. And experts are often the worst people to try to put themselves in the shoes of a new learner. In an expert’s mind, everything about a topic in their highly developed mental schema is important.

It falls to the instructional designer to break down the information into its component parts and carefully build a basic scaffolding for the learner that can be added to over time. Provide only the content that is “need to know.” Adding everything, including the kitchen sink, simply results in bloated content that is not immediately relevant and that will only end up as scrap learning.

3. Think Long Term

Over the years, I have been a part of many large ERP implementations. Often, clients fall into the trap of only designing their user training strategy to get them through the implementation. No thought is put into how that training will work the week after go live when 10 new hires, who have no idea about the “old way,” start and need to be trained on the system.

The pre-implementation training is full of examples and comparisons to how things used to be done; content that new hires don’t need and won’t understand. If, on the other hand, clients think longer term when they are designing their program, scrap can be reduced tremendously.

For example, perhaps comparisons to old processes can be keep out of materials entirely and only spoken to be instructors. Or, separate workbooks or exercises can be developed and utilized by the different audiences, again minimizing the amount of rework and scrap learning.

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